Three Shapes and Scents of Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea – love it or hate, it’s here to stay. This is a tea with an easy entrance into western markets where strong flavors tend to dominate the drink scene. Because of this, jasmine teas often occupy the lower end of the loose leaf quality spectrum. But is this always the case? Follow along with me as I take a closer look at three very different jasmine teas by China-based retailer Teavivre. Will any prove jasmine tea can be more than dressed-up low quality tea?
Meet the Teas
The three teas for today’s tasting are all jasmine-scented green teas. But that’s about where the similarities end.
From left in the picture above:
Nu er huan (daughter’s ring) jasmine green tea – Simao, Pu’er, Yunnan; picked April, 2018; USD$24.90/100g
Jasmine snow bud (mo li xue ya) green tea – Simao, Pu’er, Yunnan; picked July 3, 2018; $13.90/100g
Award-winning premium jasmine dragon pearls green tea – Fuding, Fujian; picked April 25, 2018; $19.90/100g
The most obvious difference between these teas are the shapes with the most novel of these being the nu er huan tea. Each ring is a large bud tightly rolled and dried into a ring shape. This tea emits a very strong scent of jasmine with a banana-y scent underneath.
The jasmine snow bud tea looks like a typical bud-heavy loose leaf green tea with some jasmine petals added. Even with the petals, the jasmine scent is much less strong than in the nu er huan tea, more high-pitched and sweet.
Finally, the jasmine dragon pearls are, well, small and pearl-shaped balled tea. The jasmine scent coming off the leaves fits somewhere between the above two teas – not as overwhelming as in the nu er huan, but less delicate than the snow buds.
Given that the jasmine scent covers up any inherent scents in the leaves themselves, I’m not confident that I’ll be able to match the tea liquor to the corresponding tea in a blind taste test. That said, by thinking carefully about the cost of the teas and the amount of extra labor needed to shape a couple of them, I’ve got a hunch about the quality of the underlying leaf. But there’s only one way to discern the quality – the taste test!
I’ve designed this page so that you can follow along with the tasting using pictures and graphics to represent aspects of each tea. Some graphics have extra information in a drop down box underneath. You’ll have to trust my judgement when it comes to relaying this information correctly. But even with that caveat, I hope there’s enough information that you can form your own opinion.
The parameters for this tasting were:
– 2.5g of each tea in an identical 100ml porcelain tasting set. The tasting sets were marked on the bottom with the tea name, and the tea was placed into the corresponding set. These sets were blindly mixed and filled with hot water, and then marked with a letter on top. The tea liquor was poured out into a cup marked with the same letter.
– each tea steeped for two mins with 98C reverse osmosis water with pink rock salt added (TDS of 63 ppm)
Can you guess which tea is which via the tasting note hints below? My guesses and the answers are in a couple of drop down boxes near the bottom of this page.
Spoiler alert! Don’t click the buttons below until you have finalized your guesses about which tea is which.
A – Jasmine dragon pearls. Of the three, this one has the best balance between the added jasmine aroma and the flavor/texture of the underlying tea. The delicate nature of the jasmine scent leads me to believe this is the jasmine pearls.
B – Jasmine snow buds. The umami/sweet flavors of Chinese green tea, plus jasmine, gives this one away as it is the only tea of the three with a typical green tea shape and style.
C – Nu er huan (ring) jasmine green tea. This tea simply performs poorly under these parameters. The liquor is cloudy (unlike the other two), the bitterness is strong, and that ashy smoke scent is not for me. All of these factors could point to issues in processing, leading me to believe that this is the tea which is probably the most heavily processed (due to the ring shape).
First, let’s get the worst out of the way – the nu er huan jasmine green tea. This tea is by far the most expensive of the three at $24.90, almost double the price of the least expensive, the jasmine snow buds. From the beginning, I had suspected that the ring shape of this tea added value merely through novelty, not quality. Unfortunately, it seems I was correct. But what I wasn’t anticipating was the off-putting cigarette ash scent. This is something I haven’t experienced in any other tea – not in the charcoal smoke of roasted oolongs and black teas, nor the woody campfire scent of some puer. I don’t have any insight into how this tea is produced, but I can imagine it requires a length of time to dry in the ring shape. Perhaps the producers smoke while the tea is drying?
Next are the jasmine snow buds. This is a perfectly serviceable jasmine green tea at what a quick search shows to be the standard price point from western-facing vendors. It has a strong, basic green tea taste (umami, green vegetables) with a few rough edges (distinct bitterness when brewed hard) and is pleasantly jasmine-scented. I can’t say the jasmine scent meshes entirely with the underlying tea, but as daily drinker tier stuff goes, it’s fine.
Lastly, the jasmine dragon pearls. Unlike the jasmine snow buds, the taste of this tea is better than the sum of its two parts. The texture is soft and the flavor sweet, a perfect backdrop for the essence of the jasmine aroma. With these three elements in harmony, it gives the gentle impression of sipping on jasmine nectar.
In sum, while some jasmine teas are nothing more than scented basic grade green tea, others represent a certain level of artistry that adds real value to the tea. This is most evident in the jasmine dragon pearls which both taste and look great (more on this in the addendum).
Addendum - Stems again
The jasmine dragon pearls post-steeping.
When I saw the wet, unraveled leaves of the jasmine pearls, I knew I was looking at something unique. The tea tasted great, so I was expecting to a typical fine, standard* green tea pick. That wasn’t the case: Each pearl was one bud, one leaf – AND a huge amount of stem!
In last month’s comparative tasting, I drank tea made from only tea stems, and only huangpian. In doing so, I discovered that these so called “by-products” of tea production actually have much to add to the taste of the tea.
Specifically, stems add high-pitched fragrance and sweetness, along with a soft texture. Although they add these positive aspects to a cup, typically they’re picked out because they give the dry leaf an uneven, rough appearance.
So with this in mind, the jasmine pearls represent the best of both worlds – appearance and taste. The pearl shape is standardized and beautiful, but hides the “ugly” stems inside that give the tea a soft sweetness with no fear of bitterness from oversteeping. The gentle nature of the stems keeps the flavors and aromas of the tea itself from competing with that of the jasmine flowers (as was the case with the jasmine snow buds).
*As a quick aside, what I mean by a fine, standard pick is typically expressed as just buds or buds with one or two leaves (a fine pick), with as many leaves as possible following the chosen standard (standardized).